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Environment &Epidemiology Bill Brieger | 26 Jul 2009 07:15 am

Sharing Diseases – HIV, malaria, humans, monkeys

The Los Angeles Times has reported on “Scientists have discovered that chimpanzees in Tanzania are falling ill and dying from an AIDS-like disease.” Researchers have known of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) for some time now, but had discounted its virulence.  The group in Tanzania has changed that by finding that chimps with SIV “died 10 to 16 times more frequently than uninfected chimps during a nine-year study.”

Not only are the researchers looking “into the origins of HIV and how it jumped from chimps to humans.”  They are also exploring the implications for HIV therapy and vaccines for humans.  A pathologist who examined the tissue in one dead chimp said it “looked just like a sample from a human patient who has died of AIDS.”

Reports are of shared malaria parasites between simians and humans are also becoming more common.  Here are some of the recent findings.

  • Researchers at Duke University found some similarity in genetic response to P. vivax between yellow baboons in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park and humans
  • Researchers based in Gabon and France report the discovery of a new malaria agent infecting chimpanzees in Central Africa. This new species, named Plasmodium gaboni, is a close relative of the most virulent human agent P. falciparum
  • Ulf Bronner and colleagues document a human case of P. Knowlesi in a Swedish traveler returning from Malarian Borneo, while readers of Mayo Clinic Proceedings are reminded to “keep in mind a broad differential diagnosis. P knowlesi is transmitted from human to human or from the macaque monkeys.” in Southeast Asia
  • In Brazil Ana Maria Ribeiro de Castro Duartea and colleagues explored the possibility arising from the parasitological prevalence of P. vivax and P. malariae in wild monkeys from Atlantic forest that monkeys could be a potential reservoir of these parasites for humans

In our efforts to control both HIV and malaria we must look at the broader environment and consider direct and indirect human interaction with wildlife.  It will not be enough to reduce and eliminate disease transmission among humans, if an animal reservoir remains.

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